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Living History Project Overview

History jumped out of the textbooks and into the lives of National Honor Society students at Lakeland High School as they created a unique community involvement project: “Living History: Recognizing Extraordinary Individuals in Our Community.”

From a survivor of Auschwitz to those who experienced 9/11, the stories of the 17 local community members helped bring history alive for the students. Students presented their work to a packed cafeteria at Lakeland High School that included students, the interview subjects, community members, family members, and staff.

“I thought it would be a great experience for students to recognize people in our community who have been a part of significant moments in history,” explained NHS Advisor Susan Lozinski. “I have always been interested in this idea that people who are a part of our lives have these amazing experiences that we do not know about.”

The effort culminated in the NHS members presenting their moving documentary projects to the Lakeland community on March 26. Many of the subjects of the 17 documentaries were on hand for the formal unveiling of the documentaries that will soon be available on the district website for future generations.

An English teacher at the school, Lozinski felt the project would be an impactful undertaking for the students and a memorable moment for the community. “I think there is something powerful about the amazing things someone has seen and lived through.  I feel like it gives us an appreciation for our "elders" and for what they can teach us,” she added. 

The NHS students solicited the volunteers who included relatives, teachers, neighbors, family, friends, and people they have interacted with in their everyday lives. “My students told me the subjects of their project were flattered that they were asked to share their life experiences,” offered Lozinski.   The students constructed a list of questions and interviewed their volunteers in one or two sessions.

“It was amazing getting to speak to members of our community who have witnessed significant historical events,” said LHS Senior Amy Belfer. She interviewed George Baum, who escaped to America from Hungry. “This is beautiful,” explained Mr. Baum. “It is a little overwhelming, but wonderful to have younger people connect with someone in my generation.”

“We learn a lot about history in school, but to go out and record it ourselves, to record history, was a great experience,” said Declan Moore, who interviewed Auschwitz survivor Peter Somogyi.

Interviews ranged from those like Mr. Baum and Mr. Somogyi to some of their teachers who have lived interesting lives. Marlene Moussa, a language teacher at LHS, lived through the Lebanese Civil War. “It is important for us to teach them that just getting a high school diploma is not enough,” explained Moussa. “You need to know what is around you and you need to know what is happening in the world. They need to be compassionate about everything that is happening and know that there are people who do not have the life we have,” she added.

The stories were many and covered all paths in careers and life. Many talked about coming to the United States from other countries. Tracy Norman, the principal at George Washington ES, talked about serving his country and community while balancing his principal’s work with serving as a Lt. Colonel in the Army. Anthony Esposito discussed going from working locally to serving his country in the Korean War.

LHS Science Teacher Marianne O’Gorman talked about her previous career as a DEA forensic scientist while Chemistry Teacher Frank Mazzotta talked about his prior career as a scientist.

Several interviews were with those who experienced 9/11, including William Casey, Lakeland High School’s baseball coach, and Christopher McGovern, a NYC firefighter, who discussed working at Ground Zero. Several local firemen from Mohegan Lake talked about their experiences helping out after 9/11.  Greg Martin and Floriano Aguagyo talked about their experiences on September 11, 2001. One was a businessman who was in the World Trade Center and the other an NYPD Detective, who helped in rescue and recovery efforts. Paul Conforti talked about being a police officer during the East Coast blackout. Beth O’Neil talked about being a cancer survivor. 

Fernando and Christina Mas talked of coming to America from Cuba.  Ted Chan spoke of his journey to the US and surviving 9/11. Hanna Tadbiri lived in Iran during a time of war but followed her dreams of going to college. Lilly Reinheimer talked about her journey from Germany in WWII to Cuba and eventually the United States. Larry Rosenthal shared his experiences of WWII.

“What an opportunity this project was for them to live history through these stories,” offered Lorrie Yurish, Lakeland High School principal. “It is better than any textbook, and I am very proud of our students,” she added.
“They can take some satisfaction in knowing that these stories will not just end in a generation but will be carried on for future generations,” said Lakeland Superintendent Dr. George Stone.

Mr. Somogyi, the Auschwitz survivor, concluded “if they learn from what is written here (in the students’ exhibit), it will never happen again.”